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Court etiquette on divorce day

The build-up to a divorce trial can be fraught with disquieting moments. While having extreme feelings is normal before custody or divorce settlements are cemented, having an emotional meltdown in court can have long-term consequences.

Divorce attorneys are aware that trials are nerve-wracking, but advise that cool heads prevail. The way a spouse is dressed, body language and the attitude and language used may influence a judge's final decision.

Visible negative body language used to respond to the comment of an opposing lawyer or to the testimony of a spouse translates poorly. Disagreeing with what a spouse or his or her attorney says should not be evident in hand gestures, eye rolls or obvious displeasure.

It is better to trust a lawyer to counter offending or over-the-top statements in cross examination than to wear in-court emotions on a sleeve.

An outfit that is worn before a family law judge should reflect the respect a litigant has for the court. Clothes worn to trial should be just as neutral as displayed emotion.

Business attire that is devoid of a ripped, dirty, provocative, loud or sloppy look is expected. Anything that falls outside those parameters may shine an unsavory light on a litigant.

While family members may want to show support by showing up in droves on court day, it is best to leave all but one or two at home. A divorce is an intensely private affair. Legally-biased cheering sections can be distractions.

A spouse's attentiveness to court proceedings can sway a judge's impression. Communications, like texting or unnecessary talking, are disrespectful in court.

Language used in testimony can also be telling, experts say. A spouse who focuses on his or her own desires or refers to a child as "mine" in a custody hearing is perceived as a parent with selfish interests. The court's focus will be on what is best for the child, not what is convenient for the parents.

Not only is it prudent to avoid disparaging remarks about a spouse, but it is necessary to be able to say something positive about them when custody is being decided. Judges determining custody may interpret negative revelations about the parenting abilities of a former spouse as detrimental to the children.

Source: The Huffington Post, "My Top Ten List Of What Not To Do In Divorce Court," Edra J. Pollin, Nov. 21, 2011

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